Saturday, March 18, 2017

Loving

Released in the afterglow of its Oscar nominations, Loving has finally arrived on New Zealand shores.


Loving tells the story of the Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga), an interracial couple whose union precipitated the landmark 1967 Supreme Court decision that ended anti-miscegenation laws in the United States, and laid the groundwork for the Court's 2013 decision on gay marriage.

This movie is the epitome of understatement. The most obvious part of the Lovings' story is their name, and writer-director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Mud, Midnight Special) seems to have taken that into consideration.

One of the chief pleasures of this movie is that it approaches its protagonists with no airs and no sense of historical portent. The film is firmly anchored to the Lovings' perspective. In doing so, Nichols roots their historical significance in their relationship and life together. Prejudice and the realities of Jim Crow are never ignored, but become a part of the mundane reality of work and family.

There are none of the signifiers we generally associate with movies set in this era, big scenes of police attacking freedom marchers or burning crosses. Instead we get characters like Marton Csokas's sheriff, a man whose prejudice is hidden beneath a banal exterior.

By playing the story so matter-of-factly, the impact of the hate the Lovings faced is made all the more vivid. By refusing to dress it up in more cinematically obvious terms, or placing the Lovings as markers in a historical event (a failing of so many historical biopics), the film focuses on the human beings at the centre of it, just two people with average aspirations and dreams who were kept apart by arbitrary, hateful barriers.

The acting by all is terrific, and on the same minimalist band-with as the movie. While they are all good, Edgerton and Negga are the heart and soul of this movie. Their simple, largely non-verbal relationship feels so lived-in and real: they speak so much without saying everything. There is a relaxed, empathetic rapport between them which feels recognisable. It is a dynamic that is rarely seen in cinema, and is the basis of what makes their relationship -- and the film -- the quiet success that it is.

I have seen other reviews criticise the movie for not being bigger and more overt in its passions, but such an approach would be a betrayal to the central characters, and would create a barrier between the viewer and the characters. Like the photographer from Life magazine who visited them, Nichols and his cast recognise that, in order to truly identify with Lovings, you have to sit with them in their house and watch them live. Only then can you truly recognise them, and the tragedy they (and so many others) were subjected to.



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